In these ten stories, Ford mines literary gold from the wind-scrubbed landscape of the American West - and from the guarded hopes and gnawing loneliness of the people who live there. A refugee from justice driving across Wyoming with his daughter; an unhappy girlfriend and a stolen Mercedes; a boy watching his family dissolve in a night of tragicomic violence; two men and a woman swapping hard-luck stories in a frontier bar as they try to sweeten their luck. Rock Springs is a masterpiece of taut narration, cleanly chiselled prose, and empathy so generous that it feels like a kind of grace.
The stories in this collection read like textbook exercises in classic short story form: in each, a lifetime of sadness is suddenly crystallized around a momentan image, a discovery, a confrontationafter which a life has been irrevocably, if at first imperceptibly, changed. Ford approaches the genre with reverent precision and delivers an array of haunting, enduring images: a stalled train about to be engulfed in a brushfire; a misdirected collect phone call to a father from a son in trouble; a wounded snow goose swimming circles in a lake that moments before had been covered by the rest of its flock "like a white bandage laid on the water.'' Together, these portraits of violence and betrayal among the unemployed and unmotivated in rural Montana present an almost relentlessly bleak picture of difficult lives, and the frequent presence of children as witnesses to their parents' disgraces further darkens the vision. It may well be too dark for many readers. The accessible appeal of Ford's most recent novel The Sportswriter is missing here, in large part because the characters lack the wit and perspective that could give voice to their endeavors at self-awareness. Comparisons to Raymond Carver are appropriate, but where Carver's depictions of the basic struggle to make sense out of things strike a universal chord that transcends the narrow focus of the part of the world he examines, Ford's stories only outline that world and remain bounded by its constraints despite their intermittent beauty. First serial to the New Yorker and Vanity Fair; paperback rights to Vintage.